Fantasy Basketball Waiver Wire - Targets for Championship Week

Fantasy Basketball Waiver Wire - Targets for Championship Week

This article is part of our NBA Waiver Wire series.

Welcome back. Congratulations -- we made it. The Fantasy season can be a long grind, but if you're reading here today, you're probably in contention for a championship. Let's get it done.

(That said, a reminder, for perspective: there is so much randomness involved in finishing first out of a group of 10 or 12 or more participants; simply being competitive this late in the season is an accomplishment and a testament to a well-managed season. The championship is the goal, but you should be proud of yourself for getting this far, win or lose.)

And, if we still have any long-eliminated die-hards reading, we'll add a section at the bottom for potential keeper pickups who the contenders might be overlooking.

As this is our last waiver column of the season, a few thanks before we get to the players. First, thanks to you, the readers, for coming back each week. I don't get to do this job without you. Thanks to my editors, who make sure the final product each week is comprehensible. And lastly, thanks to my wife, for supporting me through everything.

As always, the players in this article must be rostered in less than two-thirds of CBS leagues. Players are listed in the order that I recommend adding them, assuming they are equally good fits for your team.

Adds for all leagues

Shaedon Sharpe, Trail Blazers (58% rostered)

Sharpe has become the favorite to win the coveted 2023 Silly Season Breakout Award. He's started five

Welcome back. Congratulations -- we made it. The Fantasy season can be a long grind, but if you're reading here today, you're probably in contention for a championship. Let's get it done.

(That said, a reminder, for perspective: there is so much randomness involved in finishing first out of a group of 10 or 12 or more participants; simply being competitive this late in the season is an accomplishment and a testament to a well-managed season. The championship is the goal, but you should be proud of yourself for getting this far, win or lose.)

And, if we still have any long-eliminated die-hards reading, we'll add a section at the bottom for potential keeper pickups who the contenders might be overlooking.

As this is our last waiver column of the season, a few thanks before we get to the players. First, thanks to you, the readers, for coming back each week. I don't get to do this job without you. Thanks to my editors, who make sure the final product each week is comprehensible. And lastly, thanks to my wife, for supporting me through everything.

As always, the players in this article must be rostered in less than two-thirds of CBS leagues. Players are listed in the order that I recommend adding them, assuming they are equally good fits for your team.

Adds for all leagues

Shaedon Sharpe, Trail Blazers (58% rostered)

Sharpe has become the favorite to win the coveted 2023 Silly Season Breakout Award. He's started five games since Portland leaned into tanking season with incredible results. Sharpe is averaging 24-7-3 in 38.6 minutes (!) while chipping in 3.6 threes and guiding Portland to four consecutive losses. The lack of defense is a bummer, but he's compensating with better-than-expected efficiency, shooting 46/45/81 and committing only 2.8 turnovers – a respectably low figure given the rookie's massive workload. That alone is enough to make him this week's top add, even before considering that the Trail Blazers have one of the best Fantasy schedules in the league next week. 

Austin Reaves, Lakers (58% rostered)

LeBron James came back from his foot injury a week earlier than anyone expected, but his return hasn't impacted Reaves as much as I'd feared. Reaves still started and played 33.0 minutes in James' first two games. Reaves' 16-3-6 stat line isn't quite as good as what he was doing during James' absence, but it is still more than enough to be a valuable waiver pickup. 

Deni Avdija, Wizards (57% rostered)

Avdija bounced in and out of the "other recommendations" list all season, and he's earned a promotion in part due to the final week's weirdness. He entered the starting lineup when Bradley Beal (knee) got hurt, but Avdija's minutes started increasing a game before that after the injury to Kyle Kuzma (ankle). We have no hint of a return-to-play timeline for either Beal or Kuzma, though we know both are out again Friday. The Wizards are currently two games out of the Play-In tournament. Though they're several games away from official elimination, realistically, they can only afford one more loss in their remaining six games, if that. With such a minuscule chance at the postseason, Washington might keep Beal and Kuzma sidelined, letting Avdija control the starting spot throughout the final week. He's averaging 18-10-5 with 2.0 threes and 1.0 steals in 34.2 minutes since Kuzma got hurt.

Obi Toppin, Knicks (14% rostered)

Julius Randle's (ankle) regular season is over, opening up a massive hole in the Knicks' rotation. Randle has played every game this season, leading the Knicks in minutes, points, rebounds, and field goal attempts per game. Toppin has played 11 games without Randle over the previous two years, during which he averaged 19-6-3 with 2.2 threes. 

Toppin isn't listed higher this week because of his coach, Tom Thibodeau, whose rotations are often confounding. When Randle left early in Wednesday's game, Toppin's role was basically unchanged, while Isaiah Hartenstein picked up most of the slack. It's reminiscent of that popular meme:

Us, simpletons: Toppin plays the same position as Randle and has a track record of playing great when Randle is out

Thibodeau, an intellectual: I'm gonna play Josh Hart 57 minutes per game

Hopefully, Thibodeau gives most of the vacated minutes to Toppin, but it's impossible to predict how he'll actually shift the rotation.

Coby White, Bulls (15% rostered)

After two years of almost steady decline, White is back on the Fantasy radar as the Bulls work to secure a spot in the Play-In tournament. He's up to 28.2 minutes per game over the last nine, scoring in double-digits seven times and stepping up as a playmaker. He's averaging 14-3-5 during this stretch. Importantly, this is happening while most of the rotation is active. Though the Bulls are dealing with several smaller injuries that have sporadically cost players games, the rotation has been mostly whole throughout these nine games. This appears to be a deliberate decision to expand White's role amidst a stretch of improved play. He should be able to maintain this production the rest of the way.

Drew Eubanks, Trail Blazers (19% rostered)

Let's get back to those tanking Trail Blazers. Portland knows how to commit to a tank job, and a fully operational tank elevates multiple waiver pickups. Sharpe is the main prize, but Eubanks is also notable after averaging 2.5 blocks per game since entering the starting lineup. He is an above-average passer for a big man, averaging 2.8 per game as a starter. If Sharpe or Eubanks aren't available, there are still plenty of Blazers worth streaming, notably Trent Watford (20% rostered) and Keon Johnson (3% rostered). As mentioned before and detailed below, the Trail Blazers' schedule is desirable for Week 25.

Other recommendations: Quentin Grimes, Knicks (27% rostered); Luke Kennard, Grizzlies (15% rostered); Bruce Brown, Nuggets (40% rostered); Bones Hyland, Clippers (40% rostered); Corey Kispert, Wizards (13% rostered);

Deep league special

Sandro Mamukelashvili, Spurs (5% rostered)

It's surprising to see Mamukelashvili's roster rate still so low. He's putting up 14-6-3 with great shooting splits across the last five games for the tanktastic Spurs. The sophomore midseason pickup for the Spurs has been productive while San Antonio deals with injuries and tries to lose enough games to fall behind the Rockets. In roto formats where multiple teams are still active, Mamukelashvili is viable in standard-sized leagues, though teams in a standard league head-to-head championship probably have better options. He's a fantastic pickup for deeper league managers. As mentioned below, the Spurs have a great Fantasy schedule for Championship Week.

Keeper prospects

Jaden Hardy, Mavericks (12% rostered)

The phrase "second draft" has become commonplace in NBA circles, referring to players like Wendell Carter, who stall out with their first team but begin fulfilling their pre-draft promise after a change of scenery. There is a related but much less discussed concept, which I call "second lottery," describing players like Hardy. Hardy was projected as an early 2022 lottery pick before a disastrous season in the G League dropped him to the second round. The logic behind targeting both "second draft" and "second lottery" guys is similar: the traits that made someone an early pick, or a projected early pick, are typically still present even after a bad season or two, whether that season came before or after their NBA debut.

Recent "second lottery" hits include Robert Williams and Michael Porter Jr. Of course, most "second lottery" guys never hit, but those who do tend to have high ceilings and can provide massive value. Hardy has already demonstrated he has what it takes to last in the NBA, and he's been excellent when given minutes. He's played more than 20 minutes 11 times this season, averaging 20-3-3 with 2.9 threes and 1.2 steals in 28.5 minutes across that sample. He'll likely continue improving into his sophomore year while seeing more minutes. Depending on how the Mavericks' offseason goes, it's easy to imagine Hardy cracking my top 100 next preseason.

Schedule Notes

Week 25 is busy, condensed, and imbalanced. Every team plays on Sunday, the final day of the season.

Only 10 teams have three games, while the other 20 play four times.

There are no games on Monday, meaning all those extra games are condensed into six days. And most of those games take place on Tuesday (13 games) and Sunday (15 games). The 28 games on those two days are more than the 27 throughout the rest of the week. Friday is also busy with 11 games, while Thursday (5 games) and Saturday (3 games) are light.

Daily lineup leagues

Daily lineup managers effectively only have four days, Wednesday through Saturday, to use all of their allotted waiver pickups, as starting lineups will be full without waiver guys on Tuesday and Sunday.

The first thing managers need to do is figure out who they are benching on Tuesday. Then get ahead of the day-to-day grind by adding players for Wednesday or Thursday ASAP. And take note; if there are any Hornets, Warriors, or Rockets who you are benching Tuesday, then those players are droppable dead weight. Those teams have a three-game week whose other games are Friday (11 games) and Sunday (15 games). If they're benched Tuesday, they're almost certainly benched Sunday, too, meaning they are giving you a max of one start in the championship week. 

It's worth taking action on the Spurs, Jazz, Nuggets, and Trail Blazers early in the week. Those teams play on both of the week's small slates, potentially providing a considerable advantage over your opponents. The Clippers are the only team with games on Wednesday (8 games) and Saturday, a slightly worse but still good combination. 

Several teams start the week with a back-to-back set: the Hawks, Celtics, Pelicans, Bucks, Pistons, Grizzlies, Bulls, Lakers, Nets, Kings, Raptors, and Wizards.

Weekly lineups leagues

Usually, we focus this space on which teams have the best or worst schedules, concentrating on back-to-backs/rest and home/away games. However, that is not what weekly managers should target at this point in the season.

Now, weekly lineup managers must shift to focusing on which teams are behaving predictably and which are not. Teams like the Nuggets and the Pistons, who are locked into the top and bottom of their respective conferences, are wild cards. Anyone could rest or play 35 minutes on any given night because their incentives are no longer related to winning or losing. Those teams are dangerous for Fantasy. We can't avoid starting stars like Nikola Jokic or Jamal Murray, but fringier plays like Marvin Bagley or Bruce Brown are risky. Instead, we want to target players whose teams will compete to the end, like anyone still in the 4-12 morass of the Western Conference. 

From that perspective, the Nuggets are by far the riskiest team in the league, though all three of the top teams in the West (Nuggets, Grizzlies, Kings) are functionally locked into their final seed already. Similarly, the top four in the East is all but determined. The Celtics still have a slight chance to catch the Bucks for the No. 1 seed, though that might be gone by Tuesday, and the 76ers and Cavaliers are firmly settled into Nos. 3 and 4. Non-stars on all seven teams are risky Fantasy options, especially older or injury-prone players like Jaren Jackson, Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton, Al Horford, Rob Williams, and Joel Embiid.

By the start of Tuesday's games, the Knicks might also be locked into the five seed, which would add them to the group above. 

The Hornets have mathematically clinched the fourth-worst record, adding them to the wild card list. They've already announced they will engage in some chicanery related to their big man rotation, and who knows what other weirdness they might get into. Strange as it may seem, PJ Washington is the only Hornet I'd trust in a weekly lineup next week.

The best teams to target are the ones who are trying to win. From that perspective, the middle of the West contains the best targets, especially the Pelicans, Timberwolves, Lakers, Thunder, Mavericks, and Jazz. The Heat, Hawks, Raptors, and Bulls are also in this category. The Wizards are still pretending they belong on this list, but that is likely to change quickly.

While competitive teams are the safest bets, aggressive tankers are also good targets. The Trail Blazers, Magic, and Pacers are all tied with 44 losses. That's bad news for their stars but great news for young fringe waiver candidates on those three teams, who can be counted on for extra minutes. The Spurs and Rockets are also engaged in an armored mechanized land battle (get it?) as they pursue the second-worst odds.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alex Rikleen
Rikleen writes the NBA column "Numbers Game," which decodes the math that underpins fantasy basketball and was a nominee for the 2016 FSWA Newcomer of the Year Award. A certified math teacher, Rikleen decided the field of education pays too well, so he left it for writing. He is a Boston College graduate living outside Boston.
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